“Sexting” — sharing sexually explicit photos, videos and chat by cell phone or online — is fairly commonplace among young people. More than a quarter of young people have been involved in sexting in some form, according to the poll, despite sometimes grim consequences for those who do it.
Sammy, a 16-year-old, said he had shared naked pictures of himself with girlfriends. He also shared naked pictures of someone else that a friend had sent him. What he didn’t realize at the time was that young people across the country — in Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania — have faced charges, in some cases felony charges, for sending nude pictures. “That’s why I probably wouldn’t do it again,” Sammy said. Yet, “I just don’t see it as that big of a problem, personally.
That was the view of nearly half of those surveyed who have been involved in sexting. The other half said it’s a serious problem — but did it anyway.
Research shows teenage brains are not quite mature enough to make good decisions consistently. By the mid-teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional arousal, are well-developed, making teens more vulnerable to peer pressure. But it is not until the early 20s that the brain’s frontal cortex, where reasoning connects with emotion, enabling people to weigh consequences, has finished forming.
Sexting doesn’t stop with teenagers. Young adults are even more likely to have sexted; one-third of them said they had been involved in sexting, compared with about one-quarter of teenagers. But 14 percent said they suspect the pictures were shared without permission, and they may be right: Seventeen percent of those who received naked pictures said they passed them along to someone else, often to more than just one person.
Criminal charges aren’t the worst consequences. In at least two cases, sexting has been linked to suicide. Last year in Cincinnati, 18-year-old Jessica Logan hanged herself after weeks of ridicule at school; she had sent a nude cell phone picture to her boyfriend, and after they broke up, he forwarded the picture to other girls. And three months ago, 13-year-old Hope Witsell hanged herself, after relentless taunting at her school near Tampa, Fla. She had sent a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked, and another girl used his phone to send the picture to other students who forwarded it along.